Weather Forecast


Biggest health danger is one most don't think about

What’s the No. 1 killer of men and women?

Here’s one hint. It doesn’t start with a “c.” Surprised? Join the club.

What if you could actually do something to avoid this health hazard? Here’s the kicker — you can.

The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign is on a mission to fight heart disease in women. The American Heart Association (AHA) reported “too many women die each year because they don’t know heart disease is their No. 1 killer.”

Here are the sobering facts from the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease:

• Almost every minute, a woman in the U.S. dies from heart disease. Nearly five times as many women will die from heart attacks alone than will die from breast cancer.

• Since 1984, heart disease has killed more women than men each year.

• Heart disease affects women of all ages, even as young as 30 and 40.

• You don’t have to have a family history of heart disease to develop it.

• Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity and excessive alcohol.

So, sure, there will be some things that you can’t control, like your family history. But there are ways to live a heart healthy lifestyle to keep you out of the bad statistics — by eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, giving up smoking, and not drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, which raises blood pressure. A glass or two of red wine is often touted as a health plus.

But the campaign’s message isn’t limited to women. The American Heart Association, in partnership with the Brainerd Lakes Heart and Vascular Center at Essentia Health - St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd put together a team of regular residents, both men and women, for its first Go Red Better U Heart Health Challenge.

The idea is to take the team members, do cardiac lifestyle assessments and check family histories, run blood tests for cholesterol (good and bad), check blood pressure, blood sugar, and body mass index (looking at weight and height) and waist circumference (a pear shape is better than an apple shape.) Then the group has regular sessions on exercise and diet. One of the highlights was a recent breakfast Q&A with Dr. Mark Johnson, cardiologist.

Members of the group are now looking forward to a talk with tips from a dietician and how to be smarter grocery shoppers. We’ve already learned the differences between activity and exercise with the admonition to get up and move everyday. Sixty to 90 minutes of movement are recommended if you want to lose weight. Just get up and walk. It doesn’t take a trainer or an expensive workout machine to make a difference. We also learned some stretches to reduce muscle tension, a great way to help our bodies deal with the stresses of work and life.

In July, we’ll do follow-up sessions to see if we’ve been able to incorporate what we’ve learned and benefit from making healthy heart lifestyle changes.

And along the way we’ve been asked to share what we learn with others so they can also recognize the dangers and make lifestyle changes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list the first major symptoms of a heart attack — pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back; feeling weak, light-headed or faint; chest pain or discomfort; pain in the arms or shoulder; shortness of breath.

People who do feel the symptoms of a heart attack shouldn’t wait to call for help. With heart attacks, cardiologists repeat that minutes matter and can be equated with saving or losing precious heart muscle.

The Better U team includes: Allan Albertson, Dave Endicott, Becky Flansburg, Rosalind Haapajoki, Steve Mau, Craig Nathan, Wendy Schluender, Ken Thomas, Jason Walkowiak and myself.

Check out my updated blogs on tips learned through the sessions at and keep up with the Better U team on Facebook at Online resources about heart disease, prevention and symptoms include — and and and

First on the list is recognizing the dangers of heart disease. The Better U Heart Health Challenge reported “too few people realize heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, more than all forms of cancer and the next five leading causes of death combined. But, the good news is heart disease can largely be prevented.”

So let’s get started.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at or 855-5852.

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
(218) 855-5852